This week we interviewed QAISES – Queen’s American Indian Science and Engineering Society. Check out our video showcasing the interview’s highlights as well as the full interview written down below!

Story behind QAISES at Queen’s

QAISES originated from AISES, the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, which is an American nonprofit meant to bring together Indigenous people in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). They mainly achieve this by hosting national conferences and leadership summits. Although this year will be online due to the pandemic, it’s usually an in-person conference somewhere in the USA. Companies that are looking for Indigenous students either for internships or fulltime jobs attend, and high school students are also invited. The conference is all about bringing together people who are not always recognized in STEM so they can share their experiences and stories with one another. At Queen’s we started a chapter in line with that. Each year, we attend the Canadian conference that happens in February or March. And this year, like I said, it’s going to be virtual. But it’s all about connecting indigenous students in STEM and giving them a voice.


What does the conference generally look like?

The one I went to last year was in Milwaukee in a big conference center. They had keynote speakers who spoke about their research in environmental science, mechanical engineering, and so on. There were different workshops on subjects such as organization, how to build successful chapters at your institutions, and how to build a resume. They held a club fair where you can join a bunch of clubs that span across North America. As well, big companies would attend like Boeing and Microsoft who would come and look for Indigenous students. The conference really helps people wanting to network and make connections since it’s often been really hard for Indigenous students to have that opportunity. There was probably 1000 people at the conference, mainly students coming from different universities, sharing what they do at their institutions. Since I’m the Canadian senior rep, I talk about what Queen’s does and the input I have from other universities in Canada.


How did you get into it (What made you want to fight for this cause)?

When I was deciding on where to go to university, it was between here and UBC. But Queen’s was the only university I knew of that offered a program such as Queens’ Aboriginal Access to Engineering, where it just focuses on supporting Indigenous students in engineering. Especially being away from home for the first time and everything being so new, getting this sense of familiarity was important. I knew that if I needed support, I’d automatically have that if need be. So that’s the kind of thing that drew me to it. From there, I got involved in QAISES and have been a part of the club since.


What does the support look like?

So at Queen’s, they offer tutoring if I or any Indigenous students need it. There is also the Four Directions Indigenous Student Center where I can go for support and have a spiritual or cultural connection. The reason why I got into QAISES specifically was through their biweekly dinners. They would order a bunch of food for all the students, which also helped bring together students in Queen’s Eng. Of course, as a university student in first year, I’d see free food and I’d do anything to get away from the dining hall. They held their QAISES meeting after dinner and I was kind of just in the background, listening about how you can go to conferences to connect with different types of companies, hear from other indigenous people in the STEM field, help your resume, and discover different types of research opportunities. I was really interested and became a member soon after.


What is one thing you want people to know about QAISES?

I think the biggest thing is really just the community and personal connections you get. QAISES is different in that it has almost a family atmosphere since we all have the immediate connection of being in engineering and being a part of the aboriginal access to engineering program. It doesn’t matter the kind of day you’ve had; you can always talk to one of the other Queen’s students in the program and they are there for you. So, in addition to everything that Queen’s and engineering has to offer it’s just another layer of family.


In what ways do clubs like yours help Queen’s engineers?

I think it provides a different perspective in a sense. I think the more perspectives and various experiences from other people contribute to a better community and a more diverse environment.


What does QAISES mean to you?

I would say that it provides another layer of comfort since you know there is someone there for you that understands certain types of things. I mean, in first year, there is a big academic and social adjustment. You’re meeting different types of people, taking different courses, you’re away from home and everything is new. So in my first year, why I’ve really stuck with it is because of the immediate kind of foundation and comfort that QAISES provides, it’s familiar.  It’s not something that you need to try to get into, it’s always there for you. I had my friends and all these different sorts of things, but especially in my first and second year with QAISES its important because it always provides people with a familiar comfort that they can go to at the end of the day.


What would be the goal of your initiatives at the end of the year? 

As I’ve said the biggest thing about AISES are the conferences. Queen’s had six or seven kids go to Saskatchewan for the Canadian conference, but this year it’s going to be virtual. Usually we would have some sort of outreach in QAISES so we’d go to local high schools and elementary schools and show young indigenous students that engineering is a career worth pursuing. Going to science fairs is another thing that people in the club have done in the past, as well as judging those science fairs in elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools, to excite kids about engineering. So those two are kind of the major things. In regards to this year, it’ll be difficult because it is virtual but I would say trying to do a variation of both of things as best as we can is the goal.


What is one misconception about your initiative? 

Misconception. Hmmm. I guess that AISES is not just a Queen’s thing. If that’s one. UBC has a chapter, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba so there are a bunch throughout Canada, though it’s obviously bigger in the USA. Although AISES is an American organization, there are a bunch of different chapters and clubs in Canada geared towards indigenous students in STEM and the undergraduate and graduate level so it’s not just Queen’s.


What change would you like to see? How can other students help? 

Generally, things that have happened in the past, over the last year. Between what happened at Chown Hall, the racist and inappropriate comments towards the indigenous community, and flags being torn down, these actions don’t represent what Queen’s is really about. Queen’s has taken a lot of steps, especially for Indigenous students which is great and it’s important. But it’s just about continuing to show respect for one another. At the end of the day, all of us are just people, human, students, and we go through the highs and lows of everyday life. We are all here to get an education and meet different great people from all over the world. Every day I get to meet someone new and learn something new and that’s what we are here for. So, just having that in the back of your mind, it’s all about respect. Queen’s is a family and a community and everyone should be treated with the utmost respect and be uplifted rather than torn down.


What would you like to see the engineering faculty of queens do to help?

The dean has been great. He’s been really supportive. He’s told us to reach out for any reason, especially first year and second year students just because of what’s recently happened. In regard to the faculty, I think it’s important to continue having conversations about how meaningful it is that Queen’s has one of the largest, if not the largest, amount of indigenous engineering students in Canada, and what they contribute to Queen’s engineering as a whole. And like I said before, it’s great to have a bunch of different students with different perspectives and that is what Queen’s has done exceptionally well. Having undergraduate students who are indigenous, so I guess continuing to have a conversation about how important and meaningful it is to have these students in the program.


How can EngSoc help?

I think increasing awareness of the Four Directions center would help. Creating more awareness about it and the services it offers students, even if they aren’t indigenous, even if they just want to learn what it’s about, would be great. Just so they know that there is a place on campus for this. What Queen’s has done for indigenous engineering is something that should definitely be applauded and recognized, and hopefully it continues to improve.


This week for our EDI (Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) campaign, we put a spotlight on Q-WASE (Queen’s Women in Applied Science and Engineering), a new conference that aims to explore and challenge gender disparity in engineering. Thank you so much to Kathy Sheng- the marketing and events coordinator of Q-WASE for the insightful interview!

Scroll down to read the full interview and learn more about Q-WASE!

What is the story behind Q-WASE at Queen’s?

I can’t speak for Del and Gab, the ones who started Q-WASE, but I can answer this from a marketing and an events coordinator perspective. This is our first year of Q-WASE and it is the faculty’s first and only non-technical conference. What we aim to do is look at the gender disparity in engineering which is obviously present in our educational institutions and in the workplace once we graduate. We want to have a place to discuss this and look at it through an intersectional lens. We just hope we can empower women in engineering and inspire Queen’s students to challenge the status quo and learn of constructive ways we can solve this problem by not staying stagnant with this gender inequality that we have right now.


What will Q-WASE look like?

Everything is up in the air because of COVID-19- obviously. For now, it seems like we can have our conference in person. I’m not certain about what the setup is going to be like. It’s definitely going to be socially distant, which will be interesting. I’m sure that our logistics coordinators have some creative things planned to navigate that situation. It is going to be in second semester so it will hopefully be in person. If it ends up needing to be virtual, I think it would still be super cool. A) it would allow for cheaper ticket prices and B) we could have a bunch of cool speakers- maybe even more, and it’d be more of a zoom session type of thing.


How did you get into it and what made u want to fight for this cause?

Diversity in engineering and at Queen’s has always been really important to me. When I was choosing universities, it was definitely a major factor I considered. Right now, I’m on internship and it’s definitely something that I try to be a part of in my company. We have women in engineering groups and women in STEM groups that I try to join. My team at work is also a group of great female engineers, which has changed my internship experience so far for the better. In general, I’ve always seen the importance in advocating for diversity and gender inclusivity- everyone should be able to feel welcome in their workplace and community.


What is one thing you want people to know about QWASE?

Lately I’ve been listening to a bunch of podcasts and reading books- because of quarantine. I’ve been reading a lot from inspirational women and one thing I’ve noticed is that throughout their journey to success, they’ve owed it a lot to the support systems they’ve had and the people that they’ve had in their lives. They couldn’t have gotten to where they were by doing everything on their own.

So, for Q-WASE I want people to know that if they are looking for support, looking for a mentor, if they want to find career support, or just in general, I think Q-WASE is a great positive space for people to talk about how they can push past gender inequality in the industry and, how they can be successful, and resilient, and strong despite anything that might be in their way. I think that if anyone sees that there is a need for change, Q-WASE is a great place to meet others who are also willing to take action and make the change.


In what ways do clubs like yours help Queen’s engineers?

Obviously, there is an issue with inclusion, with diversity, and equity hence this whole campaign-which is amazing. I think conferences, clubs, and events like ours just help empower students and helps bring the issues that are at hand, forward. Hopefully it motivates other students to take action and perpetuates more of these initiatives which will end up bringing more diversity in Queen’s engineering.  I think it also helps students realize that there is a huge support system there for them, if they need it. I think when you bring people together it allows for bigger change to happen.


What does Q-WASE mean to you?

I think women in engineering (or any field) are resilient and adaptable. I think they can be assertive and play on the exact same field as their male counterparts. Q-WASE is a great place for females to support and inspire one another and also for them to hear from industry leaders and people who have really been able to make a name for themselves in the field and find success, despite any roadblocks they might have faced along the way. I think that these are always good things to hear when you are a university student and kind of unsure of everything. So for me, Q-WASE is a reminder of all the incredible things that women in eng can accomplish.


What would be the goal of your initiatives at the end of the year?

For me, personally, as marketing and events: my major goal is to get our name out there and create some buzz about our event because the conference has never existed before. I hope students will get to understand and resonate with our message see it as something they want to take part in. This (gender disparity in engineering) is evidently an issue, and as the future members of the industry, this is definitely a thing we want to create some change in. 


What is one misconception about your initiative?

I think the major misconception is that this is only a female only event which it obviously isn’t. In order for actual change to be made I think that everybody needs to be in support of this. No matter your background or gender identity, we hope for you to join us at our conference. I would like to see a more diverse group attending Q-WASE, so even if you aren’t a woman in eng, you can show up to learn how to be a better ally and an advocate for diversity in the industry. Q-WASE is open to absolutely everyone and we hope anyone feels welcome to come.


What change would you like to see and how can other students help?

In general, I think that Queen’s students are pretty good at taking action and creating their own initiatives for problems that they see. But I still think a lot of people see an issue and stay stagnant. It’s important not be silent or just accept the status quo. If students see an issue, they could seek others who also see it and hopefully join together to create even a small step to change. I think there is definitely a lot of opportunity for new clubs, conferences, initiatives to be created and there is a lot of smart and creative people at Queen’s. I hope students feel empowered to take action, if they have an idea no matter how big or small- it is capable of making a huge change.


What would you like to see the Engineering Faculty of Queen’s do to help?

I think there is a lot that the faculty can do right now, to be more supportive of equality, diversity, and inclusion in engineering. An example would be to talk to faculty members and professors and see which professors are willing to start some kind of diversity initiative and be a bit more vocal on offering their support to students. Something that I hear from my peers and friends who are women in the faculty is how they struggle to feel supported by some of their professors. Of course, I also hear the opposite, and have had professors myself who have become role models to me. Another thing would be the admissions process. I think there could be a greater focus on gender equality there. For example; when students come and tour the ILC we could get students to volunteer and give a talk on their experiences with diversity and inclusion in the faculty. There should be more information about support systems available for underrepresented students and make it an easier transition for these perspective students.


How can EngSoc help?

I think Engsoc is doing some great things, especially with this campaign. I’m looking at things through a marketing lens, but I think Engsoc can really help with spreading the word about the student initiatives going on right now. Providing the opportunity to have student groups get their name out there and helping out folks who are trying to make a change but don’t know how to get traction. I think EngSoc could reach out and provide support to these people and be like “Hey, we will help you get your name out there”, especially for smaller initiatives that are just starting out. Since Engsoc is such an established and well-known group, they have the power to bring smaller groups together who have similar goals and allow them to have a wider reach across the faculty.



EDI: EngiQueers

For the first post part of our EDI (Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) campaign, we interviewed Ezra Goldberg (former EnqiQueers President) and Nicholas Ramsubick (current EngiQueers President) and learned a lot about EngiQueers at Queen’s. Scroll down to read the interview!

Also, check out the video below showing the highlights from the interview!

What is the story behind Engiqueers at Queen’s?

Engiqueers was established four years ago with the aim of creating a safe, accepting, and inclusive space for queer-identified students and their allies in engineering at Queen’s. Some of the events that they hosted last year included a Bridge Building competition and a Valentine’s Campaign for the Canadian Foundation for AIDS research. The purpose of these events was to improve mental health and destress students during the fall semester.

Engiqueers is part of a national nonprofit organization, a chapter of Engiqueers Canada. Every year, Engiqueers Canada holds a fundraiser for all chapters to raise donations.


How did you find out and/or get into Engiqueers?

Nicholas: I’m coming back for my last year and I knew I wanted to get involved and make sure that I was a part in holding spaces for underrepresented individuals in the engineering community, like the QTBIPOC LGBTQ+ community. Especially since my identity is a black queer person. During the two years I spent away from Queen’s, I appreciated having people around me who could understand and share my experiences and now that I’m back I want to make sure that I am a part of creating a safe space for all engineers.

Ezra: I literally didn’t know EngiQueers was a thing until I noticed a sticker that my friend had. Because of that, I went to my first event where they had a table at QP and they were just having a conversation. At first, I was worried about it being cliquey, and exclusive, but instead everyone was so nice and welcoming. From there, I got more involved, started off as an Events Manager and then became President the year after.


What is one thing you want people to know about Engiqueers?

This year, Engiqueers is focused on making more events specifically catered to the QTBIPOC community, as well as focusing on all the intersectionality’s of being a queer person. The goal is to create a community that represents all identities; culture, gender, etc. Students in engineering cannot be categorized into one box. They are black, queer, fluid, etc. Engiqueers is creating a space for those voices that have usually been silenced, to find space, and hold space. The events we have serve more as a space where we people can come together and have conversations with others who understand them. It’s a space where people care about who you are and are trying to uplift who you are, in a safe and supportive environment.


In what ways do clubs like yours help Queen’s engineers?

We have had professional development, and educational events, queer sex ed. talks serving as educational resources, and held a panel with queer alumni and staff at Queen’s. We help students in more specific ways. Even just “fun” events allow for a space that is specifically and explicitly queer. It’s a place to meet other people of different ages and take up space.

A couple of years back the Engineering Wellness Center was closed down. It was a beacon for engineers to go talk and sit in a safe and supportive environment. Now that we don’t have that space available, clubs like ours have to take on that initiative to hold similar supportive environments. We are engineers but there is so much more to us. With our busy schedules there’s no time for us to sit and reflect on the rest of our identities, which can be draining.


What does Engiqueers mean to you?

Ezra: Engiqueers is about empowerment. Growing up you see so many ideas of “what it means to be an engineer” and I never saw myself in that. I never thought it was something I’d be able to do. Instead you see that gay men can be hairstylists or interior designers and that’s it. I never saw myself being technical or using math, which I’ve always liked. Representation matters and its important.

Nicholas: Engiqueers, for me, shows the resiliency of the community to take up space in such oppressive environments, especially engineering, which is predominantly cis white males taking up space and holding power. Again, it’s about empowering and shows resiliency to come together and show that show we’re here, we are engineers, and we’re queer, and we’re also XYZ. To show that this is what it means to be an engineer, and this is what it looks like to be an engineer, like it could be anything. I think it takes a lot of courage to do that in spaces where you’re told to not talk about these things.


What would be the goal of your initiatives at the end of the year?

Our main goal is to uplift and advocate for queer engineers and allies. We are trying to focus on the uplifting and advocacy for the QTBIPOC community. It is important to speak about the intersectionality’s of being a queer person, being a white queer person, and recognizing privilege and oppression. There are hierarchies in our society, and we need to talk about them. There are underrepresented groups in engineering, who need to know that there is a space for them and there are people who look like them and who are advocating for their lives. Engiqueers is a place where individuals can come out of the gaze of their oppressors and come together to be a community. That is the hopes of our initiatives.

We also really want to collaborate with other queer clubs or just clubs in general who are helping to create queer-positive spaces. There are so many clubs at Queen’s outside of EngSoc that a lot of engineers may not know about who are doing a lot of amazing labour to help the queer community, so we want to partner with them to help them with the work they’ve already been doing.


What is one misconception about your initiative?

The main misconception is that our space is only for queer people or those who are very much out and self-assured. Engiqueers is an open space to allies, those figuring themselves out, or those in the closet. Nobody has everything figured out in life. Everyone is welcome. It’s not a space where you have to know your label. It’s a space for you.


What change would you like to see and how can other students help? What would you like to see the Engineering Faculty of Queen’s do to help?

Faculty: I’ve heard disheartening things about faculty, and I know that is out of my control. On the @erasedbyFEAS Instagram account, a student was being misgendered and treated rudely in the washroom by a staff member. It would be nice if staff could have positive space awareness training, to ensure they aren’t just going to be a bystander and actively help. There are people who are opposed to this training and there are some people who will never understand these things and that’s unfortunate, but despite this, I think this training should be pushed to the staff as being something important.

Change I would like to see, I think, is have the faculty prioritize bringing in representation of queer and BIPOC engineers, with financial backing behind it. The faculty should try and hold their own panels and have guest speakers so engineering students can learn from them and see what it actually means “to be an engineer”. I think that if you bring a queer engineer you should compensate them for their time and discussing their hardships, success, and traumas. It’s a lot of labor that BIPOC students put into doing this stuff. It’s time for faculty to put in the same sort of labor. Doing the same thing students have been doing for a while, the faculty should show that they prioritize their students.

In addition, I find it frustrating with everything that has happened with mental health support. It has been cut leaving three individuals to take on all of the engineering students. I think more effort could be made towards mental health. For example, giving out lemons with the duck song playing in the back for #BellLetsTalk was super inconsiderate. It talked down the severity of mental health and spoke volumes about the faculty. Queer people are far more likely to suffer from mental health illnesses and we should have conversations on how to uplift people. Mental health shouldn’t just be addressed in our tuition.

We want to hire more people of all types, so we can have all voices in the conversation. We are hiring for positions if you’d like to come join. If not please feel free to come to any of our events and check out our social media @QueensEngiQueers